2021-22 record: 53-29
Key additions: Nikola Jovic (2022 Draft)
Key subtractions: P.J. Tucker (free agency)
Last season: A second trip in three years to the NBA Finals came up short — to be precise, a Jimmy Butler misfire in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals — and Miami had to settle for a hearty handshake for a great effort. Butler had a tremendous season when he was healthy (he missed 25 games), as did Bam Adebayo (26 games). Meanwhile, Tyler Herro (20.7 points per game) managed to avoid injury, enjoy a breakthrough season and capture the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award. There were some disappointments, though. New addition Kyle Lowry was hampered by a creaky hamstring in the postseason and Duncan Robinson lost his place in the rotation after getting a big contract extension the previous summer. Yet coach Erik Spoelstra pushed the right buttons, president Pat Riley found some unpolished gems to fill out the rotation and the Heat had a very credible season.
Summer summary: There are two benefits of Riley’s commendable work in finding assets and stockpiling them over the last few years. One, Miami has managed to avoid serious cap complications (thank the Heat’s guru, Andy Elisburg, for that) to put a contender on the floor. Two, Miami has enough assets to package together to swap for an All-Star if such player becomes available.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 14, 2022
About that second benefit: The Heat became a logical destination this summer for Kevin Durant. It makes sense that Riley and the Heat were interested … why wouldn’t they be? Durant is a game-changer and would be an ideal pairing next to Butler. But then, Durant and the Nets hugged it out and declared a truce.
Sure, anything can happen between now and the season opener, or now and the trade deadline. Minds can change. But it’s probably a safe assumption that Brooklyn asked for the moon — as in, a hefty package that included Adebayo — and Miami declined.
Herro was one player who was mentioned in such talks. It made sense, because Herro’s profile as a young, potential star just reaching his potential fits the profile of a wanted man. Yet, this is where it gets complicated.
Herro spent all summer waiting on a contract extension, but the Heat chose to delay such a signing until the Oct. 18 deadline to keep him in play as trade bait. There’s simply no urgency for Miami to do a deal, since it holds a team option on him for 2022-23. The risk is Herro reaching restricted free agency next summer and potentially receiving an offer sheet that Miami can’t match, but that almost never happens (see Deandre Ayton and the Suns).
Once Herro signs, he can’t be traded before Jan. 15 and has veto power for one year after the date he signs. So the Heat would prefer to maintain the upper hand and keep their trade options as open as possible.
Meanwhile, there was an interesting subtraction. After joining Miami as a heralded pickup in the summer of 2021, Tucker bailed and went to Philadelphia, exercising his option year and becoming an unrestricted free agent. This wasn’t a major surprise as Tucker has deep ties to James Harden and Sixers GM Daryl Morey. Plus, he was given a three-year deal by Philly, quite generous given his age and offensive limitations.
He won’t be easy to replace as Riley values tough, defensive-minded players and Tucker fit the mold. Riley will need to work his magic once again to get a quality power forward next to Adebayo.
In the draft, the Heat took Jovic, a 6-foot-10 small forward and one of the top international players available. He played professionally in Serbia, impressed in the junior leagues and is only 19. Given the number of players ahead of him in the Heat rotation, Jovic will likely begin the season on the bench. Of course, he could be like Heat youngsters Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven and others — as in he’s a quick study and performs above expectations.
The bill came due for three free agents, and while Miami couldn’t keep Tucker, they welcomed back Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo. Of the three, the most intriguing is Oladipo (who returned on a reported two-year, $18 million deal). It’s hard to forget that just four years ago, he was an All-Star with the Indiana Pacers and in line to receive an extension north of $100 million. He also turned down a reported two-year, $45 million deal with the Houston Rockets in 2021. When injuries hit, his leverage took a hit as well. But Oladipo remains a solid player and could push for starter’s minutes, especially if Lowry takes a sharp decline.
Or if Herro gets traded, because Miami, as always, remains in the hunt for big help.
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